BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. -- In a triple change-of-command ceremony April 14 on the Bolling Ceremonial Lawn, Maj. Gen. Robert L. Smolen assumed command of the Air Force District of Washington and Air Force National Capital Region.
With his family and friends, a large contingent of "The Chief's Own" and several Air Force senior leaders looked on from the ceremonial lawn's packed bleachers, Brig. Gen. Duane A. Jones, outgoing AFDW, AFNCR and 11th Wing commander, passed the twin guidons signifying Air Force leadership in the NCR to General Smolen. Col. Merri B. Uckert, former 11th Wing vice commander, will serve as acting wing commander until Col. Kurt F. Neubauer assumes command this summer.
General Smolen comes to Bolling from the White House, where he served as director for strategic policy and arms control for the National Security Council. "I'm trying the best I can not to smile too much because I just simply wouldn't be able to talk," he said. "It is a huge honor to assume command of an organization as important as the Air Force District of Washington because of what it represents in the capital region. It's a huge team, it's a highly motivated team and it's a team that has evolved since what occurred on 9-11."
The general, who was assigned to the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 as the director for manpower and personnel for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he lost two close friends in the attack.
"We started to really realize what the global war on terrorism was going to mean to us when we think about the people who gave their lives on that day," General Smolen said. "On that day we began to prepare for something we thought would never happen again, and fortunately that has so far been the case. But that vigilance is something that we must maintain now and in the future, and it's got to be strong. The Air Force District of Washington and the (Air Force) National Capital Region are going to be able to do that in the future and do it very effectively. ...
"Washington is a great city and it's in a great region," he continued. "The men and women of AFDW will do their very best because their area of responsibility for their part of the war, is this area, and it is every bit as important as any other area of responsibility in the world and we have job to do, and we'll do it."
General Smolen entered the Air Force in 1974 as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC program at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and brings a wealth of leadership experience to his new command at the AFDW. He has operational airborne missile and ground experience, and has served in the offices of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force. He also has served on the staff of Headquarters U.S. Air Force and held assignments at Headquarters North American Aerospace Defense Command, and Headquarters Air Training Command. General Smolen has commanded units at the group, squadron and wing levels at Pacific Air Forces, Air Force Space Command and Air Force Materiel Command.
"I had the privilege of being on the National Security Council staff and trying to implement the president's vision of freedom -- democracy and human dignity around the world." he said. "The people who are out there doing that every day, sacrificing, that are deployed, the coalition partners that are helping in that global war on terrorism are the people that we need to remember today, because that 's why we're here, to support them and to ensure that we live and work in a safe place. Speaking of vision, I can't thank Gen. Jones enough, and Jan. It's clear the extraordinary leadership that he has displayed to get to where we are today."
Gen. John D.W. Corley, Air Force vice chief of staff and presiding officer for the event, praised General Jones' "magnificent job" performance at Bolling, citing his "flawless leadership" during the standup of AFDW and AFNCR, as well as such "high-visibility" events as President Ronald Reagan's funeral and President George W. Bush's Inauguration.
In his farewell speech, General Jones poignantly expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to serve at Bolling.
"Last night a little before midnight I stood right here," he said, "and in the darkness gave thanks for the blessing of being able to serve with you. I'll tell you what the word 'blessing' means to me. Blessing is something you don't deserve but you get as a gift from a loving God. And it's a good thing about knowing that you don't deserve it, because in a situation like that, every day you wake up knowing it's a blessing and you behave in a thankful way."
Concluding his goodbye to Bolling, General Jones reached far back into American history, recalling the words an unnamed but "great American soldier" spoke during the Civil War: "He said, 'Duty then, is the "sublimest" word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more; you should never wish to do less.' As I stand here today I am so thankful for the blessing to be able to do my duty with each and every one of you."
General Smolen's career at a glance
General Smolen earned his commission through the Air Force ROTC program at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa. He was a distinguished graduate.
The general's educational background also includes a master's degree in public administration, University of Oklahoma; and a master's degree in international relations, Auburn University.
His civilian education also includes Seminar XXI, Foreign Political and International Relations, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; National and International Security Program Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge; and National Security Decision-Making Seminar, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y.
He's also attended Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
The general has been a Minuteman missile system crew member, instructor and evaluator at the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Additionally, he's been an airborne missile operations officer at the 4th Airborne Command Control Squadron, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.
His career highlights include:
* Congressional liaison officer and special assistant to the director of legislative liaison, and chief of the Inquiry Division, Secretary of the Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison
* Chief of the Inter-agency Operations Plans Branch, Defense Systems Mobilization Planning Activity, Office of the Secretary of Defense
* International political-military affairs officer in the Special Actions Branch, Air Force International Affairs, the Air Staff
* Commander, 750th Support Squadron, Air Force Space Command, Onizuka AFB, Calif.
* Commander, 51st Support Group, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea
* Chief of the Senate Liaison Office, Secretary of the Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison
* Commander, 72nd Air Base Wing, Air Force Materiel Command, Tinker AFB, Okla.
* Director for Manpower and Personnel, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
* Director of Nuclear and Counterproliferation, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and
* Director, Strategic Policy and Arms Control, National Security Council, Executive Office of the President, the White House.